Apple is constantly fighting a losing battle with jailbreakers on the hardware and software front, issuing updates that are quickly analyzed and broken by the Dev Team and other highly motivated individuals.
Recently, they’ve been trying to cut off the jailbreak community from another angle: by making it illegal to unofficially alter their handsets. In order to get the U.S. Copyright Office to see things their way, they told them recently (PDF) that the act of jailbreaking could actually cause transmission towers to fail.
I’m pretty confident that this is little more than a sensationalist scare tactic on Apple’s part, but the accusations make for pretty heavy reading. Not only could they take out transmission towers, but they also might be able to get around paying for calls (gasp!) and conduct denial-of-service attacks to purposefully crash the tower. As far as I know, none of these things have ever actually happened, but kudos to Apple for giving people ideas.
Apple argues that since jailbreaking gives users access to the OS code, it could be used to allow users to access the baseband process (BBP) and make changes to the device’s unique exclusive chip identifier (ECID). By changing that number, users could then either make calls anonymously, or even assign responsibility for calls to another ECID, the registered user of which would then be responsible for charges.
In their filing with the Copyright Office, Apple even went so far as to suggest what such a hack might be used for: “With access to the BBP via jailbreaking, hackers may be able to change the ECID, which in turn can enable phone calls to be made anonymously (this would be desirable to drug dealers, for example) or charges for the calls to be avoided.” Bringing up the specter of the war on drugs in the U.S. clearly shows that Apple knows what buttons to push to get its way.
As PCWorld rightly points out, network operators rely on SIM information, not the ECID, in order to identify customers for billing and liability purposes. Unlike the BBP, jailbreakers cannot access and change their SIM card information, so in theory all “drug dealers” would still be identifiable via their carrier, even if Apple couldn’t pinpoint exactly which iPhone they were using. Still, the denial-of-service attack threat still does pose a potential threat, in theory.
Apple’s argument is a response to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) claim that the iPhone jailbreak lock is invalid from a copyright perspective, and only serves to stifle the distribution of independent third-party applications. The U.S. Copyright Office is expected to rule either way later this year.